Bob Woodward in WaPo:
The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan warns in an urgent, confidential assessment of the war that he needs more forces within the next year and bluntly states that without them, the eight-year conflict “will likely result in failure,” according to a copy of the 66-page document obtained by The Washington Post.
Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal says emphatically: “Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) — while Afghan security capacity matures — risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.”
His assessment was sent to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Aug. 30 and is now being reviewed by President Obama and his national security team.
McChrystal concludes the document’s five-page Commander’s Summary on a note of muted optimism: “While the situation is serious, success is still achievable.”
But he repeatedly warns that without more forces and the rapid implementation of a genuine counterinsurgency strategy, defeat is likely. McChrystal describes an Afghan government riddled with corruption and an international force undermined by tactics that alienate civilians.
Peter Feaver at Foreign Policy:
I have a few initial assessments of my own:
1. It is not good to have a document like this leaked into the public debate before the President has made his decision. Whether you favor ramping up or ramping down or ramping laterally, as a process matter, the Commander-in-Chief ought to be able to conduct internal deliberations on sensitive matters without it appearing concurrently on the front pages of the Post. I assume the Obama team is very angry about this, and I think they have every right to be.
2. A case could be made that the Obama team tempted fate by authorizing Bob Woodward to travel with General Jones (cf. “whisky, tango, foxtrot”) in the first place and then sitting on this report for nearly a month without a White House response. You cannot swing a dead cat in Washington without meeting someone who was briefed on at least part of the McChrystal assessment, and virtually every one of those folks is mystified as to why the White House has not responded as of yet. The White House will have to respond now, but I stand by my first point: leaks like this make it harder to for the Commander-in-Chief to do deliberate national security planning.
3. Without knowing the provenance of the leak, it is impossible to state with confidence what the motives were. For my part, I would guess that this leak is an indication that some on the Obama team are dismayed at the White House’s slow response and fear that this is an indication that President Obama is leaning towards rejecting the inevitable requests for additional U.S. forces that this report tees up. By this logic, the leak is designed to force his hand and perhaps even to tie his hands.
Michael Goldfarb at TWS:
According to the McChrystal assessment, “Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) — while Afghan security capacity matures — risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.” Yet Obama is slow-walking the troop increase for political reasons, even as it seems likely that he will, in the end, do the right thing and send the necessary reinforcements.
The assessment also says that “While the situation is serious, success is still achievable.” Obama’s hand-picked commander has laid out a strategy for defeating al Qaeda and the Taliban. During the campaign Obama had promised to give the war in Afghanistan the attention and resources necessary to do just that — in explicit contrast to the Bush administration whom he alleged had diverted the resources and attention of the military from the real threat of al Qaeda and their Taliban allies in Afghanistan.
McChrystal leaves no doubt about what must be done if Obama is to keep his word — more troops and very soon. The president cannot delay that decision any more — not for the sake of his health care initiative or anything else. And in any case, as a matter of politics the best thing for Obama and the Democrats is to win the war. Yesterday Obama immodestly compared himself to some of the great presidents of American history. “Maybe you hear what people had to say about Abraham Lincoln, or what they had to say about FDR, or what they had to say about Ronald Reagan when he first came in and was trying to change our approach to government.” That answer came in response to a question from George Stephanopoulos about the health care town halls during the August recess. But it wasn’t legislative accomplishments that made those men great presidents. It was their decision to commit fully to the major conflicts of the day — and to win decisively.
Everyone I interviewed for this story made it clear that there would be no resource request, at all, unless and until Obama has determined the strategy advances that core anti-al-Qaeda interest. That includes , as you’ll see from the sourcing in the piece, people in McChrystal’s circle. I can’t conclude from my reporting that McChrystal is engaged in any power play. Nor is Petraeus engaged in any such power play. The military leadership is getting what it has said for years it wanted: a thorough and deliberative process from the political leadership to determine what the national strategy ought to be. Not a rubber stamp and not knee-jerk rejectionism. It’s all on Obama’s shoulders.
Update: On the other hand, this leak surely came from whomever wants troop levels increased…
Rich Lowry at NRO:
I’m just starting to read the memo now, but this leak was ideally timed — whether intentionally or not — to push back against Obama’s weak performance on the Afghan war yesterday. Suddenly, he doesn’t know what the strategy is? This is a way for McChrystal’s voice — missing so far from the debate — to be heard loud and clear, making the case for counter-insurgency tactics and more troops to back them up.
Michael Crowley at TNR:
It’s an awfully uncomfortable spot for Obama to be in. During the campaign he spoke often–albeit usually in the context of Iraq–about heeding the advice of his commanders on the ground. Now he’s in a position where he may not want to accept it. As I wrote in my last print piece, this line of thinking helped George W. Bush screw up Iraq. That said, what the generals want is not the only consideration here. Their job is to tell Obama how the war can be won. Obama’s job is to decide whether, in the context of America’s myriad priorities at home and abroad, it’s worth the projected cost.
Joe Klein in Swampland:
The President needs to know what the next Afghan governmnet is going to look like–will there be a runoff between Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah? If Karzai still manages to score more than 50% after the phony ballots are tossed, will Abdullah and other Karzai opponents endorse the Karzai government? What sort of moves will Karzai make to restore some confidence in his government? Are the Canadians going to stay in Kandarhar Province, are the British going to stay in Helmand? Are the Dutch and Australians going to stay in Uruzgan?
Obama was absolutely right on the Sunday talk shows: troop levels aren’t nearly as important as strategy. He has, at most, one more shot at getting this right. The military piece is only one part of the picture–but for many conservatives, like John McCain, it is the only piece that matters. That is a disastrously myopic way to look at an exceedingly complicated problem. Any attempts by the military, or their allies, to pressure a troop increase now are premature and misguided.
Jennifer Rubin at Commentary:
And yet the president dawdles—waiting for what? Is it health care or some other agenda item that concerns him? We don’t know, but what is evident by the McChrystal recommendation ( and by the apparent need to leak its contents, stemming no doubt from frustration with the White House stall) is that there is good reason to be concerned that the president’s failure to make a prompt decision may in and of itself impair our ability to succeed. The president may not like what he’s hearing (”Toward the end of his report, McChrystal revisits his central theme: ‘Failure to provide adequate resources also risks a longer conflict, greater casualties, higher overall costs, and ultimately, a critical loss of political support. Any of these risks, in turn, are likely to result in mission failure’”), but he owes the country a timely decision—or at least an honest explanation as to why he finds it so hard to make up his mind.
UPDATE: Leslie Gelb at WSJ
Spencer Ackerman at The Washington Independent
Max Boot in Commentary
UPDATE #2: George Packer in the New Yorker